Post mortem on Hillbilly Tea No. 4: It never should have opened

After opening the fourth version of his Hillbilly Tea concept in May, creator and owner Karter Louis shut it down this week.

I could end this post mortem by writing … “and no one was surprised,” but that wouldn’t be true. There’s plenty of social media sadness about Louis’s decision to end Hillbilly Tea as a restaurant venture. But there are as many comments there, and elsewhere, from those who aren’t shocked or disappointed that this clever-quirky concept is, finally, after four tries—three in Louisville, one in China—officially dead. Continue reading

Restaurant media, resolve to master the details in 2017

On any given day, I could be asked by a reader, “How do you know so much about restaurants?” and then be told in so many words by a restaurateur that I don’t fully understand something I’ve written about.

Neither comment is humbling. When a reader thinks I know a lot, I’m reminded that I’ll never know it all, that there’s much more to master in this dynamic industry. And when a restaurateur points out that I need more information and insight, class is in session for me. I love learning about this business.

What’s troubling is how few restaurant writers really know their subject of coverage, yet there are more people reporting on this business than at any time in history. That’s not surprising since this is a fun industry to cover and readers can’t seem to get enough of it.

But I hear regularly from restaurateurs all over the U.S. that a reporter “has no clue” about the business because he or she never set foot in a kitchen or waited tables or washed dishes. Many times I’ve been told by sources, “I can tell from the first few questions they ask whether they know their stuff or not.”

Steve Coomes | Photo by Nancy LaRocca

Steve Coomes | Photo by Nancy LaRocca

There’s a lot of truth in those statements, but to be fair, such criticism is only half merited. Thousands of great reporters have never worked in the fields they cover. But they mastered coverage of it by being diligent, asking questions whether stupid or intuitive, and accepting criticism from editors and readers. The great ones are constantly open to learning.

Those journalists also know how to report. They know how to dig for and affirm facts, and when they cover controversial subjects, they do so with balance and use multiple sources. They also don’t believe everything they’re being told—even by sources they’ve grown to trust.

That kind of reporting is lacking in this business, and since most diners also aren’t experts, such misreporting gets a pass. That’s likely because restaurant reporting isn’t like sports reporting, where every statistic is readily available to reporters and readers alike. Serious sports fans know what’s going on with every team and can call out reporters who don’t to their jobs.

In restaurant reporting, detailed information isn’t so readily available or abundantly clear. In an industry where so many dishes are mere fusions of others, and classic drinks become the concoction of the week under Old School names, it’s not easy to determine the provenance of so many things with consistent accuracy.

Yet that doesn’t stop a lot of restaurant reporters from writing as if they really know what’s on their plates. Worse, they feel no reluctance about criticizing a restaurant for not meeting their understanding of how a particular dish or drink should be made—though it might even be wrong. Too often, opinion rules in restaurant reporting when fact gathering is needed. The notion that everyone’s opinion counts on social media has crept into actual reporting, where such slanted views should always be avoided.

So to my restaurant reporting peers nationwide, resolve this year to get the facts right by doing the following:

  • Double check the spelling of names. Just because a chef has a heavy Iranian accent doesn’t excuse you from asking her to spell her name out—letter by letter if necessary. Trust me, I struggle here, too, because it makes me feel a bit dim. But better to look slow and get it right than not say anything and screw it up.
  • Double check the spelling of culinary and drink terms, and be sure you’re using them correctly. Chefs will tell you they’re usually terrible spellers, so they don’t always care. But hell hath no wrath like a studied mixologist or oenophile who knows you didn’t even check the label of a bottle you mentioned. If you want to earn their respect as a reporter, then respect their craft as much as they do.
  • Don’t trust Facebook, Twitter or any social media user to get anything right. If you see a possible story lead, address the source directly and privately without sharing a rumor.
  • Just because you’re a great home cook or drink maker doesn’t mean you know how to do that for 200 people. Home cooking can fine tune one’s palate, but it won’t teach much about restaurant operations. If you can’t learn by spending some time in a restaurant owner’s or employee’s shoes, then ask to shadow them for a day. I bet you’ll never hear “no” to such a request.
  • Find more stories on your own rather than waiting for publicists to drop them in your laps. Contrary to some of my peers, I love using publicists. But I also know they’re paid to execute an agenda.
  • To Louisville-area food, beverage and business reporters: Acquire a better-than-basic knowledge of bourbon. Horses and hoops aren’t even year-round things here, but bourbon and restaurants are in the spotlight every day, and they’re inextricably intertwined. It amazes me to me to see how poorly reported bourbon is by the home team.

And to all our sources: Call us out when we get it wrong, but do it respectfully and privately. Everyone’s human, everyone makes mistakes and everyone needs a lot of grace. Understand that you are our teachers and we need your guidance to improve our craft. A better-educated pool of reporters means better quality writing, and better quality writing means increased positive exposure for everyone. It takes a village to work this out.

Happy New Yeer to all! (Oh, sorry, Year.)

Ring 2017 in Right with Our Favorites

So you want to usher out 2016 with a bang and welcome in all the possibilities of 2017 with a night on the town? Want to make this the night you stay up past midnight, kiss someone special out in public, and Uber your way home in the wee hours? That’s what New Year’s Eve is all about, right?

Here it is Wednesday morning, and you still don’t have reservations with a local restaurant for Saturday night.

Here’s the good news. You’re not alone. The bad news is this. The longer you wait, the less likely you’ll be dining at your favorite spot. Or you’ll take the only reservation available, and it’s at 6 p.m. At last check, the Open Table web site offered 61 area restaurants with available seating for New Year’s Eve, though many of those listings noted that only a few spots were left.

Tops on that list (ranked by Most Popular) were Ruth’s Chris, Varanese, Village Anchor, Stoney River and Seviche.

Here at EatDrinkTalk, we want to help. Some of our favorite dining establishments are gearing up with special menus, and they still have openings for you. Our advice — print this post and start making calls NOW. Be the hero of the family and get the reservation, then book the babysitter and make sure your best outfit is ready to go.

Some ideas (unless noted, alcohol and gratuity are not included):

At Decca, in NuLu, Chef Annie Pettry offers a prix fixe menu including appetizer, entrée, dessert, champagne toast for $85 per person. Optional wine pairing is extra. Call 502-749-8128.

At The English Grill in the Brown Hotel, chef de cuisine Andrew Welenken offers early diners a three-course dinner ($75) starting at 5:30, or a five-course meal ($125) starting at 8:30. Call 502-583-1234.

At LouVino’s two locations (Highlands, Middletown), executive chef Tavis Rockwell will offer a prix fixe four-course dinner ($70) featuring seasonal dishes with Southern influences.  Specially selected optional wine pairings ($30) will complement the evening’s offerings. Seatings at 5, 7 and 9:15. Reservations available online only.

At Doc Crow’s Southern Smokehouse & Raw Bar, special pairings of holiday cocktails and signature smokehouse dishes highlight the night, with reservations available until 11. Call 502-587-1626.

At Bristol Bar & Grille downtown, the celebration is called Pappy New Year, featuring a flight of Pappy Van Winkle 12, 15, 20 and 23-year expression. The four-course feast ($95) features New Orleans style shrimp and filet Oscar. Call 502-582-1995. The Bristol is joining in with the inaugural Lou Year’s Eve Party on Main, featuring local arts groups performing until midnight.

At Bristol Bar & Grille Jeffersonville, the New Year’s special is a worldly five-course wine and food travelogue ($180 per couple) from Master Sommelier Scott Harper and chef Heather Brown. It starts at 8.

At Corbett’s Restaurant in the East End, chef Jeff Dailey’s elegant five-course dinner ($100) makes for a night to remember. Seatings are at 6, 8 and 10 p.m. Call (502) 327-5058.

At Equus & Jack’s Lounge, hard-working chef Dean Corbett’s menu includes prime beef medallion and Canadian rock lobster tail. You can enjoy dinner for $55 starting at 6, or join the second seating at 8 for $65. Call 502-897-9721.

At Butchertown Grocery, a special four-course prix fixe dinner ($85) with optional wine pairings ($40) begins at 9, with seating until 10. Executive chef Bobby Benjamin’s menu features chicken and waffles, steak frites and striped bass. The price includes access to Lola’s party (see below). Call 502-742-8315.

At Lola, in Butchertown, start the party with live music from DJ PYRAMYDZ (aka Craig Pfunder) and a finish with a champagne toast at midnight ($25). Order from the menu, featuring crave-worthy snacks and a cash bar, from 6 p.m. to midnight.  Call 502-749-6323.

At Brasserie Provence, you have two prix fixe options. Early birds pay $49 for a three-course meal from 5 – 6:30. Starting at 7:30, Chef Guy Genoud offers a four-course masterpiece at $79. Call 502-883-3153. 

At The Levee at the River House, enjoy a full evening of entertainment from Radiotronic, while sampling an all-you-can-eat buffet ($125) of kitchen favorites including charcuterie and cheese, crudité, flatbreads, bacon-wrapped scallops, beef crostini, sliders, and more. Cost includes all-you-can-drink well and call liquor, house wines, and domestic beers. Dancing is encouraged. Call 502-897-5000.

At 21C Museum Hotel and Proof on Main, Executive chef Mike Wajda will prepare a special four-course table d’ hote menu ($67-$78) featuring savory holiday specials, including seared scallops with pumpkin miso, charred broccoli, pickled peanut and yuzu vin and Woodland Farm porchetta with fennel pollen, kale and turnips. Seating is from 5:30 – 11 p.m. Afterward, explore the museum and dance to the music of DJ Matt Coxx, plus enjoy live performances, starting at 9. There is a premium cash bar provided by Michter’s Whiskeys and Against the Grain Brewery. Admission is $59, and includes two drink tickets and a party favor. Check it out at 21cMuseumHotel.eventbrite.com.

AND ON SUNDAY. . . 

In the tradition of Lynn’s Paradise Cafe Pajama Party, you can go to Noosh Nosh in flannel pants, robes and slippers from 8 to 2. It’s a family friendly party with awards going to those with the most creative attire. Enjoy chef Anoosh Shariat’s signature breakfast and lunch dishes. Or get your traditional Southern good-luck-themed entrees made with black-eyed peas and collard greens. Also there will be a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar, signature cocktails and specialty coffees. For more information, visit Noosh Nosh on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

 

Louisville restaurateurs, resolve to improve service in 2017

Editor’s note: In this final week of 2016, we’ll share our 2017 restaurant and bar wishes for 2017 over a few commentaries.

The quality of restaurant food in Louisville is remarkable, light years ahead of where it was in the 1980s, when I was in the business. Comparing today’s restaurant food to the chow of yore is like comparing an Armani suit to Carhartt coveralls.

Same for the liquid end of the business. Cocktail, wine and beer programs here are simply amazing. Back in my day, wine lists might have been large, but never diverse. You could get any type of beer you wanted as long as it was lager. And cocktails were mostly two-ingredient concoctions punctuated with a squirt from a soda gun.

Steve Coomes | Photo by Nancy LaRocca

Steve Coomes | Photo by Nancy LaRocca

Now the bar is the star in many spots, where mixologists share the spotlight with chefs. I’m not the only one who often decides where to eat out based on what that place serves to drink.

But where the Louisville restaurant scene could improve to Old School standards is service. Thirty years ago, the city’s top spots had it down. Yes, it was much more formal compared to now, so I can’t compare “apples to apples” here. Yet the basics of service apply anywhere, and in too many cases, those basics are lacking at too many restaurants here.

Three decades ago, the server-guest relationship was clearly defined as a business transaction designed to meet guests’ needs. Yet somehow today the server has joined the guest experience without invitation. For example, who trained servers to ask, “How is our food today?” and “Are we enjoying everything?” It makes me want to reply, “My food’s good, but I didn’t see yours come to the table, so I hope you’re not disappointed,” but I won’t.

Another: Who trained servers to slide into a booth alongside guests to take their order, or take a knee at the tableside to listen to questions, or casually lean a hip against a chair or table? Is there any other retail experience where a respectful distance isn’t common?

And what happened to uniforms? Did some guest focus group secretly tell restaurateurs, “We want our servers to dress in flannel and denim, just like the Brawny guy.” Or did restaurateurs say, “Let’s save on the cost of uniforms and let them wear what they want”?

Uniforms—even simple ones with themed T-shirts and clean jeans—not only let guests know who the staff is, they make a brand statement by adding a touch of professionalism.

But looks aren’t the real problem. Too few servers can “read the table,” meaning they lack the skill of observing guests to gain information about how they want their meal paced. What does each guest’s body language communicate? Are they deep into conversation or are they eager for a break from their smartphones? When the server begins the interaction, are those guests’ answers short and to the point (implying, “Please let me order so I can get back to my friend”) or do they lead to further conversation with that server (implying, “You seem friendly, so let’s chat”)?

Perhaps the worst problem is too few servers know what they’re serving. Since many don’t know the key ingredients of every dish on the menu (yep, those were memorized in my day), they can’t make helpful suggestions to guests. Servers aren’t mere order takers, they’re guides who lead guests on a pleasant trip through the menu. They point out highlights along the way and then step aside to let diners enjoy the experience—while always watching from a distance to anticipate guests’ needs.

To be fair, modern servers—despite being the best-paid employees in the restaurant business—lack role models. Cooks who want to become great chefs seek to work under great chefs. Same for bartenders who want the best mixology mentors or join their local bartenders’ guild.

But where do servers go for mentoring?

In the service-intense restaurant days of the 1980s, actual maître d’s trained captains who trained their assistants who trained busboys. The system was simple and effective. But since this system no longer exists, where is the art of guest service learned?

It starts at the top when owners train managers who train servers—again and again. Server training isn’t a one-and-done scenario. We all forget, so retraining is necessary, and we’re always learning, so sharing of newfound best practices is essential.

If Louisville really wants to become a great restaurant city, service needs to match the level of achievement in the kitchen and the bar. The good news is reaching that standard isn’t a difficult or unreachable goal. When local restaurateurs see service—not discounts and 2-for-1s or giant portions—as the key point of differentiation from their competitors, they’ll move to improve it.

Lunch service ending Friday at Anoosh Bistro

Lunch service at Anoosh Bistro will end after this Friday’s midday service. According to a news release, chef and co-owner Anoosh Shariat wants to give additional focus to his dinner service while migrating some the Bistro’s lunch favorites to the menu at Noosh Nosh. That concept, also owned by Shairat and his wife, Paula Barmore, is located across the parking lot at Brownsboro Road Shopping Center. Lunch there is offered Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

During a busy November lunch at Noosh Nosh, Shariat told me he was considering the change at Anoosh Bistro, but at the time his decision wasn’t final.

“Lunch in this neighborhood is very casual, and I think people see Bistro as a bit more upscale,” he said then. Looking around the packed restaurant, he added, “Everybody’s here. There’s no one age group. And you’ll see this at the other restaurants around here. (Noosh Nosh) has become a really good lunch place, so we might just let it have that business.”

Shady Lane Café is another lunch option in the shopping center, and across the street is Panera Bread Co. Two blocks away are multiple restaurants located in and around Holiday Manor Shopping Center.

Looking Back at a Delicious 2016

As we prepare to celebrate New Year’s Eve, Rick and Steve take a look back at an exciting 2016 in the local restaurant and spirits scene.

First up, we discuss some openings, closings and issues that mattered in the first half of the year, leading up to the exciting launch of our EatDrinkTalk web site and podcast in May. Highlights include the openings of Royal’s Hot Chicken, The Hub, Citizen 7 and River House, plus an ongoing discussion of whether or not restaurants should serve cheap drinks to attract brunch crowds.

The ‘Ville’s diverse and interesting collection of entrepreneurs, chefs and spirit masters highlighted our weekly podcasts, and we reminisce about some of the most memorable interviews on the show — from our launch with Castle & Key’s Marianne Barnes and to an eye-opening talk with Fernando and Yaniel Martinez about their journey to Louisville from Cuba.

Of course, we spent plenty of time in the second half of the year telling you about our travels to various local events, from soft openings to chefs’ tables to festivals celebrating beer and bourbon. We were first on the scene at Pho Ba Luu, Red Hog, Red Barn Kitchen, Total Wine & More, Scene, Merle’s Whiskey Kitchen, Slice and Lola, just to mention a few. Plus, we showed up for a flurry of distillery and brewery openings, from Angel’s Envy and Mile Wide Brewery downtown to the new Maker’s Mark cave in Loretto.

It’s been a ball for us, and we hope you’ll enjoy this look in the rear view mirror as we gear up for an even better 2017.

Christmas Week with EDT – Cards, Cats, a Big Pig, and More News

Cards or Cats? We expect to see a lot of you in the Yum! Center, or at your favorite sports bar, decked out in red or blue for the basketball game of the year tonight. As for the rest of Christmas week, the highlight is the Red Barn Kitchen (see below) event Thursday.

Big Pig. Start things off Thursday at the Whole Hog Throwdown at the Red Barn Kitchen. Before you go, take a listen to Reed Johnson’s plans for the 300-pound pig (on the podcast link below), which was delivered to the Red Barn by a local farmer. For $15, you get as much of the pork as you want, and the drink specials ($6 cocktails, $2 beers, 5-9 p.m.) may have you remembering some of those nights at Joe’s Older Than Dirt.

Pettry’s Rising Star: Not only was Decca chef Annie Pettry recently chosen for Bravo Network’s Top Chef TV show, she was just named one of three chefs on Thrillist’s Best Chefs of 2016, along with SuperChefs’ Darnell Ferguson and Laura Rountree of The Table. And you can hear Annie’s interview with our Steve Coomes on this week’s podcast here:

A Billion in Bourbon: 77 distillery projects with a value of $1 billion have been announced in Kentucky since 2010, according to a C-J story. Here at EDT, we’ve reported on awesome projects at Castle & Key, Jeptha Creed, Rabbit Hole, Peerless and others. However, Kentucky Distilling Association president Eric Gregory says that while we may rightly lay claim to being the bourbon capital, we’re not the only state growing distilleries. In fact, nine other states have more.

Partners Greg Hayden and Brian Minrath at Jtown's 3rd Turn Brewery

Partners Greg Hayden and Brian Minrath at Jtown’s 3rd Turn Brewery

Oldham County Brew: The four partners at 3rd Turn Brewing take their craft seriously, and are expanding into Crestwood by purchasing a 4-acre farm (on which to grow ingredients) and create the first brewery in Oldham County. Co-owner Greg Hayden told Insider Louisville the partners’ focus is to serve their beer in-house, much like the first location in Jeffersontown.

Basa’s Decade: If you’re a fan of Basa, make plans to get in there this week. Check Steve’s story about the end of a 10-year run for Basa, operated by the Ton brothers on Frankfort Avenue.

Tumeric Taste Trend: According to local beverage developer Flavorman, the top trending flavors next year will be turmeric, coconut and “hot and spicy.” Flavorman founder David Dafoe was a guest on the Aug. 19 EDT podcast. A company release said “2017 is shaping up to be all about seeking healthy and clean, oldies but goodies.” Tumeric is known for its health benefits.

 

Harvest’s new chef’s table is a dream come true for Roney and guests

As Patrick Roney interviewed for the executive chef’s job at Harvest last year, partner Ivor Chodkowski walked him through the restaurant’s kitchen for a tour. Like most who’ve entered the space, Roney was surprised by its size: nearly three times the expanse of its 100-seat dining room.

Without even being hired for the job, he told Chodkowski confidently, “I want to do a chef’s table back here.”

Harvest executive chef, Patrick Roney, and two cooks assembled a scratch chicken noodle soup. | Photo by Steve Coomes

Harvest executive chef, Patrick Roney, and two cooks assembled a scratch chicken noodle soup. | Photo by Steve Coomes

That happened a year later when 12 diners were escorted past the hotline to the kitchen’s prep room for the restaurant’s first Chef’s Table dinner. The Dec. 15 dinner featured five paired courses using produce from Chodkowski’s Field Day Family Farm, and meat from Caldwell Willig’s Rivercrest Farm in Goshen.

“This is a dream of mine come true,” Roney said. “For us, it’s another chance to elevate the level of hospitality here to a new level.”

Specifically, he meant letting diners meet the kitchen team by having the cooks prepare and serve the meal. Roney also believes guests not only want to see where their food is made, but see it made before their eyes. Lacking burners and exhaust hoods, the prep room wasn’t conducive for that level of interactivity, but many courses were assembled just a few feet from the long, barn-wood dining table.

Hot chicken consomme was poured at the table by cooks. | Photo by Steve Coomes

Hot chicken consomme was poured at the table by cooks. | Photo by Steve Coomes

As far as kitchens go, Harvest is utilitarian. No gleaming chrome, designer lighting or Euro-kitchen cooking batteries. Just three rooms: one for cooking, one for prepping, one for storage. It’s advantage is space. Restaurants with more seating commonly have kitchens less than half this size.

“Having room for guests will never be a problem here,” Roney said. “We can have them in here and seated and still have lots of room for the team to move around.”

Roney wanted the experience to be realistic, right down to the modern music playing on a nearby Bluetooth speaker.

“We always listen to music when we’re working,” he said.

The culinary team worked just feet from guests. | Photo by Steve Coomes

The culinary team worked just feet from guests. | Photo by Steve Coomes

No mood lighting or candles, no hushed tones coming from the hotline. Just another day in the Harvest kitchen. Mostly anyway. Kitchen crews are known for bawdy talk, and tonight at least, Roney’s was on its best behavior.

Roney introduced each course by explaining its ingredients’ farm origins, why he chose them and how he cooked them. Following him was general manager Tim Quinlan, explaining the beverage paired with each course. And as guests ate, they talked to each farmer about his products.

This wasn’t the common server’s tableside spiel. This was a high level of detail with the opportunity to ask questions about how produce and animals are raised, even definitions of French culinary terms so common to kitchen argot. Call it a classroom in which you could eat and drink adult beverages while filling your mind.

With Roney at the center, a portion of Harvest's culinary team came out to conclude the meal. | Photo by Steve Coomes

With Roney at the center, a portion of Harvest’s culinary team came out to conclude the meal. | Photo by Steve Coomes

“We want our guests to learn about what they’re eating and where their food comes from,” Roney began, “but just as important to me is that our cooks learn who’s eating what they make. We want them to meet each other.”

For several years, Roney and his wife, Heather (banquet and catering sales manager at The Seelbach Hotel) were a chef and server team on private yachts. As the crafts sailed, they served at an intimate level.

“When you’re out to sea that long, you’re going to get to know every passenger,” he told me in an interview several years ago. “I really want our cooks here to experience some of that.”

Three of the courses were assembled in guests’ view. A scratch chicken noodle soup was amassed in bowls and delivered to the table where cooks poured hot chicken consommé over turmeric-spiked noodles and Russian River kale. Multiple cooks were required to assemble the course of potato gnocchi and rabbit sausage, as well as the beef duet of strip loin and short rib built atop creamed spinach. Fewer hands were required for the sweet potato pie with ginger Chantilly.

As guests raved about the food, Roney insisted that Chodkowski and Willig were the evening’s rock stars, “because without you, we have nothing to cook. I’m so proud to have you here and cook your products for you.”

The nearly three-hour meal isn’t inexpensive: $95 for the food, $35 additional for pairings, plus tax and gratuity. There are plenty of special occasion meals around town, but few with the immersive experience or, frankly, the quality of Roney’s food. It’s worth adding that the beverage pairings also were exceptional. (The only other chef’s table experience I can think of is at the English Grill, and I’m sure it’s a dandy as well.)

For now, Harvest’s chef’s table will be a monthly event and one seating only. Watch its Facebook page for announcements about upcoming meals, or reserve a seat now by calling 384-9090.

Reed Johnson’s Big Hog Story; Bravo for Annie Pettry

Once again, the Louisville restaurant and bar scene provides us with a heaping helping of news to share as we gear up for Santa’s arrival on Saturday night. First up, we’ve got the last words on the now-closed Germantown Craft House, and news that its successor, Devil’s Due, will offer a completely different look and feel when it opens next year. One of our favorite sushi spots, Wild Ginger, will open a second location in Norton Commons. And we’re thrilled to report that Oldham County’s first brewery, from the owners of 3rd Turn in Jeffersontown, will also open in 2017.

Steve has plenty to say about his travels  — to the new Maker’s Mark Whisky Cellar in Loretto and later to a meeting of the Bourbon Brotherhood’s latest event celebrating Jack Daniel’s.

The holiday party season is in full swing, and that’s where Rick happened upon his favorite taste of the week — a spread of chocolate candy infused with bacon and Ballotin Chocolate Whiskey. Steve was fortunate enough to attend the Chef’s Table event at Harvest Restaurant, where two dishes featuring rabbit highlighted his meal. Plus, he was amazed at the Blackberry Farms’ Classic Saison that complemented Chef Patrick Roney’s selections.

Rick’s interview with chef Reed Johnson occurred in anticipation of a special event coming Dec. 22 — a feast featuring a 300-lb. whole hog Johnson plans to cook at the Red Barn Kitchen. Johnson is from Madisonville, Ky., and can’t imagine doing anything but cooking for a living. Meanwhile, Chef Annie Pettry of Decca is a rising star, and recently was chosen to compete on Bravo’s Top Chef TV show. No, she didn’t tell Steve how she did in the competition (you’ll have to wait until the show airs), but you’ll enjoy hearing about her time in the national spotlight.

edt33anniepettry edt33reedjohnson

Christmas Eve will see last service at Basa Modern Vietnamese

After 10 years operating one of the city’s most innovative Asian restaurants, brothers and owners Steven and Michael Ton will close Basa Modern Vietnamese in Clifton on Saturday, Christmas Eve.

According to Steven Ton, the end will be bittersweet, but the story has a bright future for both him and Michael.

“Everyone’s apologizing when they hear we’re closing, but it’s actually OK because we’ve had a really good run,” said Steven Ton, who managed Basa’s dining room. His family immigrated here from Vietnam, as Saigon fell, four decades ago. “Michael and I have made a lot of friends through the restaurant, and so I’m going miss that relationship with our guests. But we’re both really looking forward to what’s coming next.”

Michael Ton, the restaurant’s chef, will move to Boca Raton with his wife and two sons. Steven said she bought a nail salon there, and her having a business will give his brother time to spend with his sons, who are 7 and 12 years old.

“Working in the restaurant business means there are a lot of sacrifices made,” Steven Ton said. “He’s worked six days a week for 10 years, and he’s missed a lot of time with my nephews—his sons—and so I’m very happy for him. I know he’s looking forward to being a stay-at-home-dad for at least a little while.

“As far as me, it’ll give me more time to spend on Falls City (Hospitality Group) projects. I’ve spent the last several years working on that during the day, and then coming to Basa at night. I’m looking forward to a little more free time.”

Though the Tons are partners in Falls City Hospitality Group, he stressed that Basa is not a part of FCHG, and that the fall closure of Doc’s Cantina “has no connection at all to our decision. These are completely separate businesses. The timing is the only coincidence.”

Michael Ton will remain an FCHG partner for at least the immediate future, his brother said.

Ton said he’s promised the restaurant’s 10 employees that he’ll help them find jobs, and that several have already been absorbed into the staff at Doc Crow’s Southern Smokehouse & Raw Bar, which is owned by FCHG.

Ton said the closing night’s dinner will include a special menu. The ending will be bittersweet since any sadness will be offset by seeing loyal customers.

“I’m not leaving Louisville, so I hope to see many of them around the city,” he said. “But I do really want to encourage customers to come by that night so I can say goodbye to them in person.

Since it’ll likely be busy, ring them up now for a reservation at 502-896-1016. And if you have an outstanding gift card, make sure to use it soon.

And speaking of Doc’s Cantina, what FCGH plans to do with the River Road space remains undecided, Ton said.

“No, there’s no decision yet,” he said. “We’re still trying to figure that out.”